Is motivation the only reason behind a student performance in a foreign language?

Is motivation the only reason behind a student performance in a foreign language?

Diary submitted by Lorenzo R. Valencia

What are the main constraints in the classroom facing TEFL teachers?

The number of people who are willing to learn English is always increasing, however the purposes and hence the motivations that drive students tend to greatly differ. In fact, for some of them, learning English is but a matter of filling up their spare time, and as a consequence they dedicate little, if any, time to it with scarce improvements over the course of several sessions.

Although, this is not to say that all EFL students with no scheduled exam do not put any effort into it, while those practicing for one progress very quickly. As a matter of fact, what is thought to make a difference in learning a second language (L2) is the student’s motivation (Masgoret and Gardner in Lasagabaster, 2011). However, as Lasagabaster (2011) points out, motivation alone is not responsible for the progress in one’s learning of a L2. As a matter of fact, other factors need be taking into account, such as a student’s age, family background, education and time to dedicate to the L2. For instance, a full-time university student in her twenties with a basic level of English (A1) was very receptive of my corrections and put them in practice right away, without the need for me to step in and repeat them. Conversely, a 50 years-old man who claimed his dream to be to eventually move to New Zealand had been taking classes for several weeks and had supposedly reached a higher level. However, throughout those sessions he had done no progress, incurring in the same grammatical -ranging from tenses to preposition and syntax errors- and pronunciation mistakes as someone who had just started going to class. Some circumstances may have been affecting his poor record, to name a few his age, he is in his late 50s, probable lack of habit with learning a foreign language and a more interactive way of teaching it. Moreover, one should also count in his far from optimal familiar circumstances due to his mother’s sickness and her subsequent reliance on him, as well as the fact that he was on holiday, thus arguably less willing to spend much time on learning English preferring to relax and enjoy his free time.

All in all, when learning a new language motivation is definitely an important factor to keep in mind, but it is not the only one should focus. The time allocated to practice both in and out of the classroom is fundamental, as engaging with the teacher in a lesson can cover the basic elements, which needs to be reinforced through its repetition and application to different contexts. In order to do this, one needs to dedicate some time to the sole learning of it, thus taking a break from all the other activities and problems she may face. However, this is not always possible and unfortunately it often factors in the poor results of the students.


  • Lasagabaster, David. 2011. «English achievement and student motivation in CLIL and EFL settings.» Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 5 (1): 3-18.

Is motivation the only reason behind a student performance in a foreign language?

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